I am an experienced rail trail rider. Had this been my "first" venture on a rail trail, I would be hard pressed to be convinced to go on another. I love the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and the work they do. I am an avid trail rider. I don't usually write reviews but feel in this case it is wise to give a heads-up to inexperienced trail riders.
I started in Roxbury. It was hard to even find the trailhead. The grass is knee high. No signs for parking. I took my chances and parked on Rt 30, which turned out to be fine. There were no other cars parked at the trail head. Not a good sign! Except for the high grass (oh boy, ticks were on my mind) the trail from Roxbury to where you cross Rt 30 towards the Gorge was uneventful except for the marshy area where you come out at the road that required walking your bike.
Once on the other side the "fun" begins. As one reviewer noted, lots of sticks. And mud. And rocks. And loose gravel. The stretch of exposed railroad ties is short and definitely walkable. The rest of the trail is hard going, and between the high grass, mud, rocks, gravel and sticks, my time was really slow, slower than my usual slow pace.
I was disappointed that the Catskill Revitalization Corp building was fairly dilapidated and closed (on Memorial Day Weekend). There are basically no amenities along the way (except a Family Dollar right on the trail in Stamford) and no signage pointing to any at any of the street crossings. I do not see how it is possible ride the entire trail out and back AND take in the off the trail sightseeing as described in the trail description (Official Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Guidebook), and do it all before dark. (Fishing, picnicking, reading a book, exploring the towns, really?) As it were, it took me from 9:45 am to 6:30 pm to go out and back. (Granted, I am a 60 year old woman riding alone but with 1000s of miles of experience.)
There are no mile markers, but some signage after the Gorge indicating miles to the next town. Only no signs to indicate that you indeed had reached that town. (I am comparing this to other rail trails that have signage, amenities and indications that you are in a certain town.) It is obvious there's a town nearby at some of the crossings, but unless you are well armed with maps and prior research, you won't be absolutely sure of where you are. Signage connecting the trail at crossings is good.
You can read about all the types of areas you'll be riding through in the trail overview.
Lack of riders on a beautiful, sunny holiday weekend day in May is an indication that the trail may leave a lot to be desired. In the entire trip out and back I only saw may a dozen other riders, and only three of whom I saw coming and going.
Even with all the hardship, it was a beautiful area of the country to ride. My recommendation is to not ride this trail alone as there are too many areas where if you got hurt or had mechanical issues you'd be waiting a good long while for help. I had no cell phone coverage for most of the trip. Make sure your bike is suited for the conditions. Don't even think about taking your road bike. Take lots of water, food, bug spray, first aid kit, etc. Don't depend on being able to stock up along the way. Don't make this trail your first rail trail experience. Try a shorter one that's less difficult first. If you are hell bent on doing the whole trip in one shot (like me, as I read that recommendation in the overview, ahem), start in Roxbury as the grade will be in your favor on the way back.
I hope the Catskill Revitalization Corp is able to raise the funds to support the upkeep of this trail. It has so much potential and is one of the few trails in the northeast that are more than a few miles long.
(My ride: Surly Long Haul Trucker.)